As any educator will tell you, personalizing learning can be pretty messy when you get up close. Ideas and practices overlap—it’s nearly impossible to tackle one without touching another—and the work itself can be both overwhelming and exhilarating. But one thing remains constant: Underneath the layers of learning, the student is always at the center.
At Institute @ CESA #1, our mission is to establish personalized learning as the prevailing approach to educating youth. Part Wisconsin state agency and part non-profit, we developed a visual model to guide our work based on a simple concept found in nature--the honeycomb. But don’t let our neatly aligned, color-coded graphic organizer fool you, the honeycomb is an ideal representation of our work precisely because it allows for “messy.”
The arrangement of the honeycomb elements or “cells” is intentional. While the model is not linear, the work must begin at the center with the core components and generally expand outward toward the perimeter. It is crucial to begin with the learner—not logistics, trendy furniture, new schedules or even technology. The elements in the outer layers have a role to play, but their value comes later to help accelerate and scale the work or remove barriers to progress.
Although the very nature of personalized learning allows for its implementation to take many forms, we believe three components form the core of a personalized learning system and keep the student at the center:
We strongly encourage teams to start with the core components outlined above and gradually add thoughtfully selected elements from our model. Moving outward from the center, the honeycomb framework defines the following layers:
Educators, leaders and school communities regularly use our honeycomb to support a number of tasks and processes as they build and sustain personalizing learning systems:
Across the Institute’s network, the honeycomb is supporting the organic growth of personalized learning with exciting results. Over the past three years, students at one middle school have shown learning growth rates in reading and math that are more than twice the national average; students in other schools in the network are showing similar progress. A number of schools have seen more than a 50 percent decrease in disciplinary incidents. And in one urban high school, graduation rates have improved upwards of 10 percent in the past three years alone.
As mindsets and learning ecosystems continue to change, we expect to see the honeycomb have an increasingly meaningful impact on personalized learning everywhere. But even in starkly different educational environments--be they messy or neat, flexible or structured--the student will always remain at the center.